A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: vicki_h

The New “F” Word: Turning 50 in Love City

A birthday bash in St. John

Did I tell you I turned 50 while I was on my blog hiatus?

Yes….2020 was certainly a fun year. We rebuilt from Hurricane Dorian with no electricity or running water. We came home in the middle of a pandemic. And then I turned 50.

I’m not sure which part was the most fun.

Long before hurricanes and pandemics, I had planned my 50th birthday to be on Guana Cay. We had rented a much larger house than ours and had invited the usual suspects.

Then….a category 23 hurricane hit our island dead center. Apparently, that wasn’t sufficient devastation enough, so the hurricane decided to sit on top of the island and pummel it with 185 mph winds for 48 HOURS.

I had to scrap that plan. We would not be vacationing in the Abacos by July. Heck, we would not be flushing toilets without a generator in the Abacos by July.

Plan B. I decided to spend my 50th in the B.V.I., so I rented a lovely place on Mahoe Bay on Virgin Gorda.


The B.V.I. closed.

I had to scrap that plan.

I had taken this as a sign from God that I was not supposed to travel for my birthday and had no intention of a Plan C lest I conjure up Armageddon. I decided Matt and I would spend my 50th birthday quarantined at home, sharing one roll of toilet paper, binge watching Tiger King, and drinking canned “to go” margaritas from our favorite Mexican restaurant.

Then ….the U.S.V.I. announced it would open up to visitors on June 1.

Before we discovered Abaco, St. John was our place. We went at least once a year, sometimes twice, for over 10 years. However, we hadn’t been back since 2014.

Dare we try? Or was the birthday trip simply doomed?

If I tried again, would I cause the Caribbean to be consumed by a plague of locusts, shut down the world power grid, cause the sun to go dark?

I stood in the kitchen making breakfast on the 2,387th day of quarantine and I absolutely could not remember what day it was. Was it Tuesday or Friday? Was it just yesterday that I cut my own hair or was that last week? I realized we had been stuck living a ground hog day existence, with each day merging into the next and with little to look forward to. All of us were immobilized at home, day after day, rationing toilet paper in a Zoom hell.

We called the crew and booked a trip to St. John.

At the risk of summoning a zombie apocalypse…we were doing the damn thing.


Day 1: Mask Up!


Our group of 14 became a group of 12…became a group of 10….became a group of 8…as everyone got their pre-travel Covid tests and some didn’t make it.

For the rest of us, it was masks up and time to fly.

We arrived on time, grabbed 2 Jeeps at the airport, and headed for Red Hook.

To ensure we didn’t break from tradition, we all got lei’d at Duffy’s before boarding the ferry to St. John.



We picked up our grocery order at Starfish Market and headed up the beautifully winding North Shore Road to our villa in Peter Bay.

Villa La Susa was a magnificent villa in lower Peter Bay and completely made me forget I was getting older by the minute.











Day 2: Slowing Our A$$es Down



We were finally on island time and, after 5 months of the pandemic, everyone was ready for some R&R.

But first….mimosas! (and Bloody Marys, of course!)







We started the day at Maho. Maho was always my favorite beach, but I had not been since Hurricane Irma had blown through in 2017. I was so sad to see the beautiful leaning palms were gone and the beach almost didn’t even resemble what it had been “back in the day.”

(Note to self: saying things like “back in the day” makes you sound 50…)











I also wasn’t sure what to think of the new “Maho Crossroads” across the street. While loungers and food trucks and bars are nice…I missed the natural beauty of the old Maho.

Nothing a few rum punches couldn’t cure.












We needed the old St. John…so we headed to a place that never changes….Skinny Legs! It was still all stinky bathroom, no French fries, no frozen drinks, and “feed the chickens at your own risk,” while eating a juicy burger and sipping a cold coconut swizzle.

I’m glad some things never change.





That evening, we headed into Cruz Bay thinking we would have dinner at Longboard. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same thought. Rather than wait an hour, we headed over to Woody's for boozy drinks and tacos.





Day 3: Getting a Little Trunk


There was no better way to start each day than with morning cocktails and the view from the villa before heading to the “beach of the day.”

Today’s beach was Trunk Bay. Maybe some think it is overrated, but I still think it’s the most beautiful beach on the island.



I wanted to share it with our friends who had never been, so we packed up coolers and chairs and headed to the beach to get a little trunk!

If you drink in the sun, you can get toasted 2 ways!










After the beach, we headed to Gringos for a proper tacos and tequila lunch.







That evening, we planned to do the “birthday dinner,” even though my actual birthday was still 4 days away. The rest of the group was leaving before the big day, so we were celebrating early.


In the cursed summer of 2020, Cruz Bay restaurants were doing what they could to allow visitors. That meant we weren’t all allowed to sit at the same table and we had to use disposable dishes and cutlery.

While paper plates were absolutely antithetical to the whole notion of “fine dining,” we just felt lucky to be there and didn’t mind, even when trying to cut a thick, juicy steak with a flimsy plastic knife that snapped in two within 9 seconds. Unless you wanted to become a stealthy BYOKer (bring your own knife) at the risk of angering the Silverware Sergeant, it's just the way things were that weird summer.

We wanted a nice dinner where we could use real forks and plates, so that meant dinner at the villa. I had arranged for Sam & Jack’s to make us a dinner to go along with a cake so that we could enjoy at least one dinner at the same table.




I should mention here that I am THAT friend.

I’m the friend that makes everyone wear sequins to the hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant because I think it will be festive. I’m the friend that buys matching t-shirts and hats for everyone when we go on a road trip. I’m the friend that gets too excited about birthdays and insists that everybody dress up in matching outfits, buy costumes, and/or apply face paint, depending.

I’m very lucky to have friends that let me be THAT friend.

We dressed up. We drank champagne. We ate cake.

We used real forks.









I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday dinner.



Day 4: Honeymoons Aren’t Just for Newlyweds


Honeymoon Beach used to be one of the most secluded beaches on the island. You can’t see it from the road and the only way to get there was to make a steep and dirty trek 250 feet straight down on the Lind Point Trail or walk 30 minutes in the hot sun from the Caneel Bay parking lot. Both options included lugging your beach chairs, cooler, and gear with you.

The reward, however, was blessed solitude.

At least until the “cattlemarans” showed up from St. Thomas, dumping hundreds of over-eager, yellow vested bobbers into the clear, shallow water, because the only other way to arrive was by boat. The good news was that they only got to linger for a short while before the bull horn sounded, rounding them all back up to head somewhere else.

I remember one time when Matt and I had made the hot and sweaty walk from Caneel Bay with chairs, cooler, towels, bags, lunch….We were the only ones there. We set our chairs up, put our towels in them, and headed out to snorkel. While we were snorkeling, the yellow-vesters showed up, bobbing around loudly, standing on the coral. To avoid getting head-whacked by flailing flippers, we decided to finish our snorkel once they were gone. We headed into the beach only to find two portly yellow-vesters plopped in our chairs…wet…on our towels.

They had the nerve to look at us and say, “Well, we just thought these chairs were here.”

I remember Matt responding, “Really? Who do you think brought them? The Chair Fairy?”

Ahhhh….the good old days.

(Note to self: saying things like “the good old days” makes you sound 50…)

Now, you can get a luxurious shuttle to drive you to Honeymoon Beach where it will deposit you gently at your private cabana with sofas, loungers, towels, floats, hammocks, and food and drinks at nearby Bikinis Bar and Grill.

It made me sad.

However, if they were going to litter this pristine beach with cabanas and such, we might as well take advantage of it. We spent the day lounging in style and sipping cold drinks from the nearby bar. It was a far cry from the “olden days” of drinking lukewarm rum punch from a cooler filled with quickly melting ice while eating a soggy tuna sandwich, but I still missed what this place used to be. Those seeing Honeymoon and Maho for the first time will never know what they missed.



















What I would have given to have been laying in the sand, just me and Matt, eating a soggy tuna sandwich.

After down time and pool time, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at Lime Inn who said “to heck with disposable dishes” and served us on real live plates.









Day 5: Going Out With a Bang



Today was the final day for the group. Matt and I had opted to spend a few extra days, including my actual birthday, after the rest of the group headed home. We were going to stay in our favorite villa, Sunnyledge. We spent so many vacations at Sunnyledge, it felt like home, and unlike Villa La Susa, we would not be required to sell plasma to afford a few extra days.

We couldn’t let our friends leave without taking them to Francis Bay.










Francis might not be the most glamorous of the North Shore beaches, but it had always been a favorite. Sitting on the far end, it never seemed to get as much action as its flashy sisters like Maho and Trunk.

After spending a few days on the “new and improved” (and crowded!) North Shore beaches, that suited us just fine.












We did the “beach thing” for a while and then took the crew for a drive over to Coral Bay and out the east end, wrapping back around to Cruz Bay.











Lunch and drinks were at the Beach Bar. I needed to see if they still had the “Tuna Down Now,” and if it was just as good as always.

They did and it was.













If you followed along on Matt’s 50th birthday on Jost Van Dyke, you know that we can’t celebrate a milestone birthday without at least one proper throw down, particularly a themed one.

My friends didn’t let me down. It was an 80s themed blow out to celebrate our last night together.












Day 6: I Think We’re Alone Now

It was the last day of my 40s and it was time for all of our friends to head home. We all got packed to move out of Villa La Susa.


Our friends were onto the ferry and headed to the airport, and Matt and I headed to Sunnyledge.

We found this villa many, many, many trips to St. John ago and it remained our favorite. What better place to turn 50?

It was still the most perfect villa.






We had half a day to kill, so we headed out to the beach.








We cleaned up and headed to our favorite restaurant for dinner…Morgan’s Mango.




Guess what they had?

The Silverware Sergeant had struck again.


Day 7: It Came In Like a Wrecking Ball

I fully expected my 50th birthday to be an EVENT….but maybe in a different sense.




We awoke to find out a Tropical Cyclone was headed our way. The last ferry of the day left at 11:00 a.m., all ports closed at noon, government offices closed at 1:00 p.m., a mandatory curfew was called for that evening, and the National Guard was on standby.

Welcome to 50!

Seriously….as far as 2020 went….this was just par for the course.

We ran to Cruz Bay for drinks and lunch before everything shut down.




The rest of my 50th birthday was spent at Sunnyledge, day drinking and taking bets on which trees would break, singing karaoke, and making dinner out of the only food we had….meatless spaghetti and crinkle fries.





At least there was cake.

Day 8: No News is Good News

The curfew lifted at noon. The skies had cleared.

We lounged lazily on Gibney/Oppenheimer, doing a whole lot of nothing, thankful the storms had passed.











We finally got to eat at Longboard. It did not disappoint!











This extremely pleasant and blessedly uneventful day ended with a lovely dinner at Extra Virgin.









Day 9: Taking the Midnight Express

It was our very last day. 2020 had been a doozy. My 50th birthday had been a doozy. Why not let our last day be a doozy too?

Midnight Sun Boat Charters was taking us out on one of their beautiful Midnight Express boats.









We started off the day with a little snorkeling and some beach time.









“What would you like to see next?” we were asked, as we dried off.

“We can take you to Maho to swim with the turtles. We can cruise along the North Shore for some sight-seeing. We can look for marine life. We can take you to the floating taco bar….”


You had me at floating taco bar.

Really, you had me at “taco,” but floating is cool too.

Lime Out VI is a taco bar that operates from a pontoon boat anchored on St. John’s remote east end.

We were dropped off by our boat onto a round float. Shortly after, a server came out on the floating dock and pushed a floating tray to us with the menu, took our order, and, before we knew it, drinks and tacos floated out like magic.













Why would you want to sit in the water and eat tacos, you ask?

I don’t know, but you do and it’s amazing.

Remember all those things your mom told you not to do? Don’t talk with food in your mouth. Don’t run in the house. Don’t eat on the couch. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t blow bubbles in your milk. Don’t put things in your nose. Don’t put gum in your brother’s hair.

I’m pretty sure she would have also vetoed eating dinner in the water.

It’s like doing something you aren’t supposed to do and it’s flipping awesome.

You can get buzzed, get full, and get prune fingers all at once.

We ended the day with Matt climbing a giant cliff and jumping off because…well….men.












Day 9: The Best Journey Takes You Home




My 50th birthday trip hadn’t been exactly what I thought it would be when I started planning it years before. It wasn’t what I thought it would be when I was finalizing plans only weeks before. It wasn’t what I thought it would be the day I arrived on St. John.

But it was everything.

“Fifty” is the new “F” word……and that word is “Fabulous!”


Posted by vicki_h 14:17 Archived in US Virgin Islands Tagged beach island tropical stj virgin_islands usvi st_john cruz_bay trunk_bay Comments (0)

Redwoods, water, and wine

Road Tripping in California

It was September 2022 and California was experiencing a prolonged, record-breaking heat wave. Heat records that were almost 70 years old were being broken as temperatures soared. The dangerous heat wave started the last week of August and taxed power grids, fueled fast moving fires, and posed a threat to those forced to endure the outdoors for extended periods of time. Expected to persist for a couple of weeks, the heat wave was being noted for its intensity, duration, and the extended area that it covered. Triple digit temperatures prevailed from September 1st until the 9th.



For days, temperatures soared over 100 degrees, including record highs of 116 in Merced near Yosemite, 114 in Fresno and an impossible 127 degrees in Death Valley. In Yosemite Valley, wildfires were burning 5,000 acres due to the extremely hot and dry conditions. Bears were so hot, they were venturing into residential neighborhoods…..not to terrorize residents or eat garbage, but to get in their swimming pools.

The news advised residents not to worry if they saw squirrels laying out flat on sidewalks like melted taffy to get cool (it’s called “splooting” in case you wanted to know). They also reported record numbers of baby squirrels plummeting out of trees in the heat.



That’s hot, people.

The governor declared a state of emergency.

Obviously, that is the week that we had decided to make our first trip to this part of California.

Lord help us.

What could we do? We packed our essentials, which included the obvious respirator, personal mist fan, and hardhat (in case of falling squirrels), and set off for the airport.

Day 1: Vacation Mode ON...OFF...ON...OFF...ON

We woke up to the blaring alarm at the unholy hour of 3:00 a.m. so that we could catch our 5:42 a.m. flight. While getting up that early is the pits, the upside is that we’d arrive at the Fresno airport by 10:00 a.m., with plenty of time to make the 2 ½ hour drive to Yosemite Valley at our leisure and enjoy the afternoon in Yosemite Valley looking for splooting squirrels.

You know what they say about the best laid plans….

We were informed at the ticket counter that our flight had been delayed.

Until 3:00 p.m.

This would get us to Fresno at 6:30 p.m. and would barely get us up the winding, twisting drive to Yosemite Valley by dark.

There was nothing we could do but put our hard hats on and go back home.

We headed back to the airport that afternoon. Our flight left as rescheduled and we landed in Dallas for our layover….only to find out that our flight from Dallas to Fresno has also been delayed.

We spent the next several hours at TGI Fridays in DFW drinking cheap wine.

We finally arrived in Fresno at MIDNIGHT, and we still had to make the drive to Yosemite Valley.

We arrived in the absolute, wretched dark and stumbled our way into the historic Yosemite Valley Lodge, which we had chosen for its proximity to the valley, not for its amenities. We dragged our luggage up the wooden steps to our modest and “rustic” room.

It was hotter than 5 hells.

With no a/c, we immediately turned on the fan and opened the window.

We immediately closed the window.

The smoke outside was worse than the heat inside.

Don’t get me wrong, I am used to very basic national park lodging. It’s a compromise that I make knowingly. You accept a subpar, yet very expensive, room in order to be inside the park. The Yosemite Valley Lodge was no exception. I would call it more “70 year old motel” than lodge, but I suppose that’s just semantics. It wasn’t terrible, but let’s just say it wasn’t amazing. It’s basically a Motel 6 in the wilderness where the daily management is subcontracted to the lowest bidder, but it’s better than sleeping outside with bears.

Day 2: Don't go chasing waterfalls


Yosemite is probably best known for it's iconic granite cliffs, like El Capitan and Half Dome, and for its massive waterfalls. On our first day, we planned to see both.


The advantage of sleeping in a very hot room is that you wake up early even though you went to bed at 2 a.m. Wait…is that an advantage?

With no Wi-Fi in the room, we had to head to the reception area to see what the day’s weather was supposed to be. The valley was deeply blanketed in smoke, so we didn’t feel very optimistic. Add to that the Glacier Point Road was closed for construction, limiting our hiking options even further. It was also late summer, which meant no waterfalls...making the Valley a trifecta of misery.

To allow ourselves to ease into hiking, we had planned to do some of the Valley Loop hikes. When your body is used to lower elevations, tackling a strenuous hike in a high elevation can be hard on your body on day 1, so it’s a good idea to give yourself a day or so to acclimate. We thought the valley loop would do just that. Unfortunately, the best valley loop trails were to lakes or waterfalls that were currently dry, and we quickly realized that the rest were simply trails beside the road. After walking down the busy road for about 30 minutes in the ridiculous heat, inhaling smoke and swatting at incessant flies, we needed a plan B.


We had already checked out of our room, so we sat in the car while I looked at a map. Luckily, I had the foresight to purchase the required, and limited, entry pass for the Tioga Road, so we headed up to higher ground. While the valley sits at about 4,000 feet, the Tioga Road climbs to almost 10,000 feet, so we were able to get out of the smoke that was sitting in the valley. We were also able to escape some of the heat.
Because we had already burned half a day, we chose the Gaylor Lakes Trail, which offers some crazy scenic views in just 5 short miles, if you choose to walk to all lakes and walk around. However, the trail starts at an elevation of 9,960 feet, and the beginning gives you no breaks, starting with an immediate steep ascent…so probably not the smartest hike to start with on day 1 after getting about 4 hours of very hot and restless sleep.


I am not sure what happened at the trailhead. I consider us reasonably accomplished hikers. I don’t know if we started at the wrong spot, I don’t know if we just weren’t paying attention, I don’t know if we just wandered off the trail at some point without noticing….but we found ourselves on a rocky ridge and we were clearly not on a discernable trail.

In my defense….the trail looks like THIS….seriously, can you see it? I didn’t think so. It’s a trail of dirt and rock on a slope full of dirt and rock.
I was also busy staring at my feet because I had an irrational fear that I would step on a rattlesnake, so I wasn’t really watching where the barely visible dirt line was going.


We wandered around that ridge like lunatics, trying to find the trail. Matt wanted to keep pushing on, certain we were headed the right way, and I was certain we were headed in the wrong direction, destined to find ourselves alone in the wilderness, no doubt stumbling onto a bed of pit vipers. We’d be those people that got picked up by a helicopter weeks later, with crazy eyes and wild hair, having survived by eating tree bark and our own shoelaces for 17 days.

When we finally saw some people down the hill below us, we were able to put eyes on the trail again. Whew! We had to climb down a rocky slope and trudge through a few scrubby bushes, but we were back on track.

In hindisght, it appears the trail goes LEFT….and we are clearly going RIGHT……


Lunatics…or trailblazers? You decide.

After that initial fiasco, the trail was LOVELY. It first descended down to Middle Gaylor Lake. At the shore, there was a path that went around the entire perimeter, but since we didn’t really know how much time we needed or had, we decided to do that on the way back if we had time to spare.


We hiked on to Upper Gaylor Lake which was also incredibly lovely.


We hiked back to Middle Gaylor Lake and took the trek around the entire lake.

When we reached the opposite end of the lake, Matt was somehow emboldened by his recent “trailblazing” and decided we had not spent enough time being lost and looking for rattlesnakes, so he decided to keep trekking past the lake even though it did not appear to go anywhere. He was somehow convinced there was a stunning overlook that no one had ever discovered before and he was going to be first. Instead, we walked for 30 minutes through a bunch of nothing before I refused another step and turned back to the lake.


Seriously, was he just begging to find a rattlesnake?

We made it back to the trailhead without getting lost, getting divorced, or finding a venomous bed of snakes, so we’ll call it a success.

Before heading back to the valley, we stopped at Tenaya Lake to take a peek. It was a lovely lake, large with mountains framing it in the background. People were spread out on its shores enjoying the warm day.


As we descended back down into the valley, we noticed an amazing thing…the smoke had dissipated in the afternoon! We were able to see the valley views and El Capitan without the haze.


Instead of heading back to the Yosemite Valley Lodge, our second night was at the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal, for no reason other than I had been unable to get a room anywhere else.

I will say that it was worth the extra 15 minute drive for AIR CONDITIONING. The rooms were nothing special, but wow, did they have a gorgeous view.



With only 1 restaurant choice in the area, deciding where to eat dinner was easy. We walked over to the lodge restaurant. While it was nothing fancy, it was surprisingly okay.


Day 3: Taking the road less traveled

Because the smoke in the valley was overwhelming in the morning, but disappeared in the afternoon, we made the decision to head back up the Tioga Pass Road to do another high elevation hike.

We grabbed some lunch snacks at the El Portal Market and planned to do the Cathedral Lake hike. At a little over 9 miles, this hike promised outstanding views and a beautiful lunch spot.


It delivered.

The trail started at 8,500 feet, but after yesterday, the elevation was no bother. Once you’ve gotten lost at 10,000 feet and started hyperventilating because you thought you saw a rattlesnake, 8,500 feet is nothing.


The climb back to Upper Cathedral Lake is steady, gaining about 1,000 feet. Once there, you have your choice of any number of lovely spots to stretch out in the sun and enjoy your lunch.


After lunch, we took the spur trail down to Lower Cathedral Lake, which was just as scenic.


From there, it was back to the trailhead.

We didn’t get lost once.


For tonight’s stay, I had managed to score 1 night at the Ahwahnee Hotel. I was elated. And disappointed. And elated.

Elated that I had managed to get even one night because this hotel is simply breathtaking.

Disappointed that I had only been able to get one night because this hotel is simply breathtaking.

Elated that I had only been able to get one night because this hotel was flipping expensive. If we had stayed 2 nights, I would have been eating tree bark and my own shoelaces for the next several days.


When we checked in, the gentleman that showed us to our room told us we had gotten one of the best views in the hotel. I believed him.


We grabbed some cocktails at the bar and found a seat outside on the patio to watch the sunset.


As the sun dipped, it cast a glow on the mountain peaks above.


As we sipped, we noticed these adorable spotted squirrels everywhere. Apparently, the California ground squirrel not only knows where to buy cuter outfits than the drab TN squirrel, but they burrow underground rather than living in trees, which probably explained why they weren’t splooting on the sidewalk in the heat.

Dinner at the Ahwahnee is a formal affair, complete with a dress code, candlelight, and a live pianist.


Definitely a step up from our cheese tray and canned wine from the El Portal market.

Day 4: Are we there yet?


We woke to slightly less smoke. At this point, it was more haze than smoke. Our plan for the day was a drive from Yosemite Valley to Three Rivers, CA which would take us about 3 hours. Since we couldn’t check into our accommodations until late that afternoon, we had time to kill, so we wandered around the valley for a bit before heading out.

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Despite the smoke and the lack of waterfalls (which are typically dry in late summer), we could tell the Yosemite Valley was a very beautiful and special place and we made a promise that we’d be back.

We drove as far as Oakhurst and stopped for lunch at Idle Hour Winery and Kitchen. It was seriously HOT and they only offered outdoor seating, but I grabbed my portable mini fan from the car and we made it work.

This place was lovely. The food was absolutely amazing and their sparkling wine was perfect on such a hot day.


As a bonus…Frozen Boozy Pops!


From there, it was on to Three Rivers where we checked into our Airbnb on the Kaweah River, a short drive to Sequoia National Park where we hoped to do some hiking the following day.


It was getting late, so we simply enjoyed sunset by the river with some wine before heading to dinner nearby.


There aren’t a lot of choices for dinner in Three Rivers, so we literally picked the closest place. The Gateway Restaurant and Lodge had a surprisingly awesome patio complete with blue lights, a view of a shiny pink tree, and an entertaining duck swimming circle. What more could you want?


Day 5: Yes, Virginia, there ARE giants

Today was supposed to be an absolute scorcher, so we got up super early to do some hiking in Sequoia National Park.


There are just no words for how it feels to walk among these giants.

The trails meander all over the place and you can take many different routes to make it as long or short as you’d like. We hiked until we got hot and hungry.


We drove on up to the Lodgepole Visitors Center, where you can buy a pretty nice lunch to eat outside.


At this point, it was 112 degrees in the shade and we’d had enough.


We headed back to the house to do nothing more than sit in the river until dinner.


We grabbed dinner at nearby River View Grill, who boasted an amazing burger and an even better view.


Day 6: Done with the pines....bring on the wines


We’d made several trips to Napa and Sonoma since becoming wine lovers, but had noticed that many of our current favorite wines were from Paso Robles. We felt like it was time to give Paso a try, so we headed out that morning to drive 2 ½ hours to Paso Robles.

We arrived right at lunchtime, which was perfect since our first winery was Niner. Niner is known as one of the best kitchens in Paso Robles, in addition to having amazing wine.

We had an incredible lunch paired with a luxurious wine tasting in the blessed air conditioning overlooking Niner’s famed “heart hill.”


Welcome to Paso!

We quickly learned that we had been saying Paso Robles ALL WRONG.

What we thought was “Pah-Sow Robe-Lays” was, in fact, “Pass-oh Row-Bulls.”

However you pronounce it….it is delightful.

We had made most of our reservations for outdoor spaces, but in the heat of the afternoon, the wineries were kind enough to move us indoors.

After a fantastic lunch, we made our next stop at Hope Family Cellars. While their indoor tasting room isn’t nearly as lovely as their outdoor cabanas, it’s infinitely cooler.


When it was time to check-in to our house, we made our way to our rental for the next few nights and it was simply divine.


We headed to dinner at Fish Gaucho in downtown Paso for margaritas and Oaxaca Flocka Nachos. You know I went level 3…don’t even ask.


And yes, it did F¿$% me up, thank you.


Next door to Fish Gaucho is Cane Tiki Room. Matt and I can’t resist a good tiki bar so, despite the fact that we had consumed 174 glasses of wine that day, we headed in for a nightcap.


Granted, mine was more “old man whiskey” than “tiki,” but whatever. You say “tomay-to” I say “tomah-to.”


Day 7: In dog wine, I only had 2 glasses

Today was the day I had been looking forward to the MOST. We had booked the Defender Tour at Halter Ranch. I have a penchant for old trucks, but I reserve an extra special place in my heart for old Land Rovers.

I nearly cried when we arrived and were told that, we could go out in the Defender if we wanted to but that, given the heat of the day and the lack of air conditioning, we would be dead by noon.


Not wanting to die today, we opted for the cushy, air-conditioned SUV tour.

We immediately loved the laid back vibe of Halter. Because of the heat, they had opted to start our tour early in the morning, so the winery wasn’t quite open when we arrived. While they geared up for the day, the sat us at the bar indoors with a lovely chilled glass of white wine.

Breakfast of champions.

Shortly after, we were whisked away in our air conditioned chariot to the first stop of the tour of this stunningly beautiful 2700 acre property, the Victorian farmhouse built in 1880. When the ranch was purchased by its current owner in 2000, he had the home restored to its original glory. The tasting took place on the shady patio, surrounded by flowers. At each stop we would be served one wine paired with a fruits, nuts, and cheeses. The first wine was the effervescent rose. Just short of being a sparkling wine, but delightfully bubbly all the same. We loved the relaxed nature of this tour. As it was just the 2 of us, we were served food and glasses of wine, were educated by our guide on the location we were in and the wine we were drinking, and then we’d be left alone for a good half hour to simply enjoy.


Bubbly finished, we loaded up and headed toward our second stop. En route, we stopped at the warehouse where the owner was having a totally operational, mini-sized steam train built. We were able to check out the train cars. This might have been Matt’s favorite part. I guess boys never outgrown trains.


We made our second tasting stop at the ranch pond where we enjoyed a glass of Halter’s granache blanc with another cheese platter.


The third stop was a lovely table in the shade overlooking the vineyards where we sampled the CDP, a blend of granache, syrah, tannat, and mourvedre while enjoying more snacks.


It was here that I learned that woodpeckers will drill holes into the oak trees and then use it to store hundreds of acorns. Kind of like their own personal snack bar.


As we drove between stops, we were educated on aspects of the ranch, the property, the winemaking, the history. It was fantastic.

We reached our fourth stop at the top of a grassy knoll high above the rest of the property where we sampled the Tannat …with more food…..Lion’s Ridge is the highest elevation point of the property and the views were fantastic.


For the last stop, and 17th glass of the tour, we stopped at the 700 year-old Ancestor Tree, the largest coast live oak on record. Here we sampled their iconic Ancestor wine.


When we returned to the tasting room, we decided to have lunch at the ranch restaurant, Le Jardin, not only because we knew the food would be amazing, but because we never wanted to leave.


Eventually, however, they pried my sweaty fingers off of the steering wheel of the Defender and told me I had to go.


We made a second stop at Calcareous Vineyards, but to be honest, I have no idea what we sampled there because I was 6 glasses in at this point. I’m sure it was lovely, although I’m pretty sure I mostly went for the fries.


This is us, trying to look sober several hours later on our way to dinner.



We had wisely chosen Buona Tavola where we could eat a lot of carbohydrates. We were seated at a lovely little outdoor table that could not have been more romantic.


Day 8: Love the wine you're with

We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise at the house and spent the morning watching the hummingbirds on the back patio.


However, we had to rally. There was more wine to be tasted!

We started our morning at Daou.

While Halter was my single favorite experience of Paso Robles….Daou was the most beautiful winery, hands down.


The place was breathtaking.


With beautiful views, incredible food, and lovely wine, what more could you ask for?

Why…..you could ask for a dog in boots, that’s what.


Inside, you can purchase additional wines by the glass if there is something else you’d like to sample. We couldn’t leave without trying their two signature wines – Patrimony and Soul of a Lion. Both were exquisite. Well beyond my price range, but exquisite.


And each glass came with a free cat.


Our next stop was lunch at Parrish Family Vineyard, because why go to a restaurant for lunch when you can go to a winery with food instead?
Parrish makes lovely wines and is situated in a beautiful farmhouse, but the real reason I was there was for the legendary BLT.


Loaded with candied almond praline bacon; piled with crisp lettuce, fresh tomato, and avocado; slathered with creamy garlic aioli; and served on homemade Cabernet Sauvignon sourdough bread… I can still taste it. Paired with a mile high salad, it was a perfect wine country lunch.


We headed back to the house for a power nap before pressing on.

For our final Paso Robles wine tasting, we had reserved the cave tour at Eberle, because Matt loves cave tours and because I love giant poodles.
Eberle had both.


We had to admit….we loved Paso Robles as much as we loved Napa Valley. We found Paso to be less expensive, more laid back, and just as beautiful. We also felt a more personal experience at each winery. The wines were just as amazing but with significantly less traffic and fewer people. Not once did I see a tour bus filled with people unloading at a winery. Paso felt more approachable, down-home, and inviting than its elite counterpart, Napa Valley, and that suited us just fine.

Day 9: You say "Caramel," I say "Carmel"


Our time in Paso had passed-o.

Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.

For our final day, we planned to drive straight over to the coast and drive Highway 1 through Big Sur and all the way up to Carmel-by-the-Sea, where we would spend our last night.

We hit the road, grabbing donuts at Twisted and Glazed in downtown Paso to fuel the drive.


Our first stop was at the Elephant Seal beach just north of San Simeon. The smell hit my nose as soon as I stepped out of the car. One part sweaty gym socks, one part rotten fish, and one part National Park pit toilet in the sun….it made my eyes water. I smelled them before I heard them, and I heard them before I saw them. A wet sound like a snort-burp-snarl rattled the air, sounding like a sleep apnea convention. And then I saw them, hundreds of gray and golden bean bags wallowing in the sand, their bodies looking like fat lazy hot dogs baking in the sun. There were so many of them. It was one funky, stinky, fatty shindig. They were all over each other with no sense of personal space, noses in bellies, tails in faces, heads on backs…..like a giant, sandy game of Slug-Twister.


We enjoyed watching the blimpy beach bums for a while. We watched this poor, fat seal try to climb this inches high incline for what seemed an eternity. It was like watching Jello try to walk. If you ever feel something is insurmountable in your life, just remember this seal.

We left, the smell of Piedras Blancas beach clinging to our clothing like something living.

The rest of the drive was spent pulling over every 5 minutes for a more incredible view than the last.


Shortly after lunchtime, we arrived in Carmel-by-the-Sea. We had heard about this picture-perfect storybook town, but had never seen it. I wanted to see if it lived up to the hype.


It did. This might be the most adorable town in the U.S., like something straight out of a fairy tale. Ivy covered cottages, candy striped awnings, and flowers bursting forward from every window…it was too adorable for words.

We checked into the Vagabond House Inn. We selected it because it was one of the only places in town that allowed a one night’s stay, but it turned out to be a lovely inn with a perfect location for walking around town.


We walked over to Tree House Café for a late lunch. Tree House Café has a cozy interior and a lovely veranda climbing with ivy and flowers. Not knowing what time we’d arrive in town, we hadn’t made a reservation, but were seated immediately thanks to the odd hour.


We spent the rest of the day wandering the quaint streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea.


We headed back to the inn to rest our feet, clean up for dinner, and enjoy their complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres on their lovely patio.


Afterward, we popped into Barmel, a cozy outdoor patio bar with live music. We enjoyed lovely cocktails and music until it was time for dinner.
It was tough to choose where to eat with only 1 night and so many amazing restaurants, but we settled on Little Napoli where we were seated at an adorable little outdoor table under the twinkling lights.


Day 10: Vacation mode OFF

It was time to head home. We enjoyed the complimentary breakfast at the inn before loading up and heading out.


We had taken a large, circular route which allowed us to visit some diverse places, have some great adventures, drink some wonderful wine, and see some beautiful sights.


Another amazing CA road trip!

Note: While I have a lot of trips to catch up, thanks to being very lazy on this blog for the past few years, I decided to post this one now because we are repeating Yosemite and Paso Robles very soon! Stay tuned!

As a bonus for making through the entire post....here is a very determined, and non-splooting, squirrel trying to carry a pinecone as big as its own body across a bridge. Never give up!

Posted by vicki_h 15:47 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls mountains lakes road_trip nature hiking california national_parks yosemite sequoia big_sur redwoods wine_tasting fresno paso_robles wine_country california_road_trip _california_coast carmel_by_the_sea Comments (2)

Take a Hike

Our 10th Trip to the Last Best Place

When the mountains call, you listen.


It had been 3 years since our last trip to Montana. The last trip was in the fall of 2020. The entire east half of the park was closed due to COVID. The entire west half of the park was blanketed in heavy smoke from neighboring wildfires. It wasn’t ideal, but it was MONTANA and we loved it.

It had been too long and we were itching to get back.

Day 1: Getting There Is NOT Half the Fun

Even though it seems to take 27 ½ hours to get from TN to Montana, it’s early when you arrive, thanks to the ungodly hour that the American Airlines flight leaves Knoxville and the repeated time changes.

I love the Kalispell airport almost as much as I love our tiny, easy Knoxville airport. It’s small, it’s uncrowded, and you are in and out in minutes. It also has the added bonus of bears, mountain goats, and all sorts of wilderness goodies to welcome you to the wild country.

We picked up our rented bear spray (a GREAT addition to the airport!) and checked out our TURO car rental. This was our 3rd time using TURO. The first, in the Keys, was AMAZING. The second time, in Maine, we had an adorable Mini that obviously hadn’t had the a/c serviced in years and we hit it right during the worst heat wave in Maine in 40 years. We nearly died.

This time, we had a reasonably decent vehicle with one ABSOLUTELY BALD TIRE. I was starting to learn the downside to TURO, the AirBNB of cars….unlike Budget, there is no guarantee that your vehicle will be properly maintained. Looking at those exposed bands on that tire and thinking about a 1 hour drive down the bumpy dirt road that leads to Polebridge, a cold sweat broke out on my brow.


We crossed our fingers and our toes and hoped for the best.

We literally used every available space in the back with our luggage and still had suitcases under our feet. Maybe I should have gone with a cargo van.

Undaunted, we set out in search of our first adventure. We found it at Glacier Distilling, en route to Glacier National Park.


Not only do they sell some amazing bottled spirits, you can have a few cocktails before you hit the road.


We sampled, we sipped, we purchased some cherry bourbon for the road, and we headed to our first night’s accommodations at the historic Belton Chalet.

If you have read my blog before, you know my M.O. in Glacier National Park is to start on the west side and move lodging across the park to the east side and then move back west. We rarely stay in the same place 2 nights and we love it.

Belton Chalet is a lovely historic property that sits at the west entrance to the park. We had reserved one of the Lewis and Clark cabins. These rustic cabins are free standing and offer 3 bedrooms, a cozy den with a fireplace, and a kitchenette. It was just what we needed.


We cleaned up and headed to the Belton Chalet dining room for dinner.


Belton Chalet is one of the few places in the park where you can get a proper meal. Most of the park lodges have “park lodge food,” which is fine when you’ve been hiking all day and are hungry enough to eat a cardboard and mayonnaise sandwich , but on that first night, it’s lovely to sit down in Belton’s beautiful dining room and sample some craft cocktails and fine food.

We had missed lunch (unless pretzels and whiskey count), so we clearly overordered.


That did not stop us from eating all of it.

And regretting it.


Day 2: Getting Our Hike On

The only hike I truly LOVE on the west side of Glacier National Park is Avalanche Lake.


Everyone else loves it too, so if you don’t hit the trail by 8:00 a.m., you’ll be hiking in a steady line with about 200 other people. It's more like being in a queue to ride Space Mountain at Disney than hiking in the woods.

That’s why I woke everyone up in the dark, made a quick breakfast in the cabin "kitchen" (which was a microwave and a coffee pot....not even a sink....), packed trail lunches, and shooed them out the door before the sun had even peeked over the mountains.

We weren’t here to sleep. We were here to HIKE.

But first….we had to try to shove all of that luggage back in the vehicle. There was a shouting match, some choice words, a little bit of crying…and finally…success!


We reached the trailhead just at sunrise and didn’t see another soul. We only saw a handful of people on our entire hike up to the lake and it was absolutely blissful.

The Avalanche Lake hike gives so much in such a short hike. The hike back to the lake is only 2.5 miles, but wow, so much is packed into that 2.5 miles, and you get the added bonus of seeing it all again on the hike out.

You first walk through the Trail of Cedars, a soft, quiet, dark walk through incredibly beautiful huge cedar trees.


Once you start to climb, you reach Avalanche Gorge. The most amazing turquoise water rushes with incredible force through a red rock gorge. Framed by green cedars, it’s breathtaking.


After the gorge, it’s a trek through a quiet forest with occasional views of the river.


And then….you reach beautiful Avalanche Lake. Because very few people had made the hike at this early hour, we had our choice of seats where we could simply sit and enjoy the mirror-like lake and the stillness of the morning.


I noticed a few people walking the trail beside the lake, something we had never done. I have NO IDEA why we had never done it….but it felt like it was time.


Imagine how stupid I felt when we reached the other end of the lake and realized it was the most gorgeous part of the whole hike. How had we missed this all these years????


We spent about an hour wandering around the head of the lake, watching a busy little beaver swim back and forth, building his dam. Wow. Just ….wow.


Sorry for the photo overload, but asking me to choose a favorite photo is like asking a mother to choose her favorite child, and, unless you are MY mother, that's not an easy task.

We then did the whole hike in reverse, and it was just as amazing.

Go on the Avalanche Lake Hike with us:

We had originally planned to have lunch at the lake, but since we arrived by 10:00 a.m., we had aborted that plan. It wasn’t lunchtime until we finished the hike, so we found a picnic area on Lake McDonald and found a front row seat to the views for a picnic.


We still had half a day to enjoy, so we headed on to Apgar and checked in to the Agpar Village Inn, the most amazing terrible room you’ll ever stay in.


I love Apgar Village Inn. It’s identical to every motel your parents ever took you to in 1974, complete with bad carpeting, ugly furniture, and polyester bedspreads. The bathrooms are laughable, there is no air conditioning, no phone, and no T.V. You get this amazingly ghastly room for the bargain price of $300.

“Why?” you ask.

THIS is why.


It’s simply magical.

We cleaned up, grabbed an ice cream cone, and started the long, arduous drive along the bumpy, pitted, and extremely long dirt road to Polebridge. I looked at that bald tire and said a quick prayer.


If you break down on the Northfork Rd…..you are probably there for a while.

Miraculously…the tire held and we made it Polebridge. I never tire of this quaint spot, despite the hour long drive that jars my teeth and fills my lungs with dust.

The Polebridge Merc still had their beautiful display of fresh baked goods, dogs still greeted us happily living their best lives (except these two who looked like someone had just peed in their dog biscuits), and the Northern Lights Saloon still served up a great dinner.


I also found my soul mate in Polebridge.


We headed back to Apgar in time to sit on our $300 deck and watch the sunset.


You can't put a price on this.



Day 3: Time To Hit the High Notes

When it gets dark at 8:00 p.m. and you don’t have a T.V., you go to bed early.

You also wake up early.


Today was the Highline Trail and we wanted to get to Logan Pass early, as the parking lot is typically full by 9:00 a.m. The added bonus was getting to see the first light of day over Lake McDonald and then watching a golden sunrise as we drove.

I totally understand why they call this the Going to the Sun road now.


We reached Logan Pass early and secured a great parking spot. I jumped out of the car…and then jumped back in.

It was COLD.

We all had to scramble in our wedged stack of luggage in the back to pull out jackets, hats, and gloves that we weren’t really expecting to use. We were hiking the Highline Trail, with the emphasis on “high.” A chilly, windy day is magnified about 10 times up there.


I love the views from the Highline Trail, but the star of today’s show was the grizzly that decided to lunch for an hour on the trail between the boulder field and Haystack Butte. He had a group of us trapped below him at the boulder field trying to go up and another group trapped at the top trying to come down.

As we say in TN, "Weren't nobody going nowhere."

We simply claimed a boulder, pulled out snacks, and watched the show.


We finally gave up and turned around. Since Granite Park Chalet was already closed for the season, we had only planned to go to the top of the hill anyway, and getting to watch the bear was way better than climbing the switchbacks to the top, so we were satisfied.

We turned around and headed back to Logan Pass.


Go on the Highline Trail with us:

Because our hike had been cut short, we had some extra time and decided to hike back to Hidden Lake.

It was gray, cold, and unbelievable windy, and I didn’t see a single goat, so I’m not sure how happy I was about climbing the 3,576 steps to get to the overlook, but when in Glacier….right?


Go on the Hidden Lake Trail with us:

Our accommodations that night were at the St. Mary Lodge. It’s a nice change of pace after Apgar. I love the historic park lodges, but I have to admit that it was nice to spend a night in a room that didn't smell like my grandmother's basement complete with a 1964 wall heater and a shower so small you have to be a practiced contortionist to get your entire body wet.


Dinner that night was at one of our favorites…the Cattle Baron Supper Club.

The Cattle Baron is very unassuming from the outside. Some might even say questionable.

However…look closely…do you see all those dusty trucks in the parking lot? They let you know there is something amazing inside.

Strong drinks, cowboy chic décor, authentic Indian art, candlelight and tablecloths, and delicious steaks wait for you inside this rustic building covered with neon beer signs.

It’s just a little more of that Montana magic.


I was happy to see they still had the very awkward ladies room.

Never let the world change you, Cattle Baron.


Day 4: Up, Up, and Away We Go

Because we had decided to split our time between Glacier National Park and Bigfork, an adorable town we had discovered on our 2020 trip, this was going to be our last hike in the park, so I wanted to make it a good one.


In 10 trips to Glacier National Park, we had never done the hike that actually inspired us to go to GNP in the first place.

Waaaaaay back, on a skiing trip to Big Mountain, MT, Matt bought a book about Montana. On the cover was a beautiful photo of a turquoise glacial lake surrounded by mountains. He took one look at that photos and said, “I want to go there.” The photo was taken on the Grinnell Glacier hike.

We made our inaugural trip to GNP in 2004.

We had never done the hike for several reasons: 1) It was crowded, 2) It was almost always closed when we were there due to bear activity, 3) It was crowded, 4) It was next to the Cracker Lake hike which is our favorite and hard to skip, 5) It was crowded, and 6) It gets steep as hell. Grinnell Glacier Hike is considered to be the second most challenging hike in the park, second only to the 19 mile Dawson-Pitamakin Loop, which Matt and I absurdly did in one day. Granted, we were 16 years younger....

Note to self: When deciding to do the “hard as hell” hike that you’ve dreamed of, remember that it probably would have been better to do it in 2004 when you were 34 instead of 2023 when you are 53. Just a thought.


A million stone steps straight up and narrow rock ledges be damned, I was doing this hike.

Because the boat across the lakes was closed for the season, the hike was also extra long.

The first few miles were very easy, though. We meandered beside the lakes through a very pretty forest.


Then the trail started to climb. The climb wasn’t too terrible, though, more gradual than not and the views were outstanding.


When Grinnell Lake popped into view, I thought I’d seen the most beautiful view ever, but that’s because I hadn’t reached the glacier yet.

We ooooo’d and aaaaah’d before pushing on.


As we neared the glacier, the trail just became a miserable climb up steep rock steps, some so tall that people with short little legs have to HOIST themselves up on all fours. Even though my legs were burning, I pressed on.

I was ecstatic when I reached “the top” only to realize “the top” was not, in fact, the top and one had to climb another 7,498 stone steps to actually see the glacier. We climbed.

And oh how glad I was that I did.

It was a “wow” moment.


We enjoyed a chilly lunch on a rock in the sunshine soaking in the beauty of the view. And then....it was time to go down.

If you have ever done any significant hiking, you know going down is worse than going up.

My knees sounded like an old goat chewing on a tin can full of popcorn.

We were rewarded, however, with beautiful views, some mountain goats, and one darn majestic ram that I swear was posing for his fans.


Go on the Grinnell Glacier Hike with us:

When we reached the trailhead and I wasn’t dead or without the use of one or more of my appendages, I was happy. Exhausted, but happy.

With everything from the waist down hurting like the devil, we needed DRANKS.


We headed back across the park to the west side for our final night at Lake McDonald Lodge.


First up….DRANKS. Lake McDonald Lodge was shutting down for the season the very next day, so our choices at the Lounge? Wine or whiskey.

After a couple of stiff Manhattans….I didn’t even remember I had hiked that day.


The dining room is lovely at the Lodge, but we actually prefer the Lounge, so we cozied in and enjoyed a relaxed dinner at a table with a lovely view of the lake.


Day 5: Moving Day

It was time to leave the park and head to Bigfork for the rest of our trip. We lingered at the lodge before hopping in our sweet ride.


Because we couldn’t check in until afternoon, we headed down the river to a spot Matt and I remembered from 2020 so he could do some fishing and I could look for rocks.


Literally the best rock shop in the world.

I knew it was time to head to lunch when the rocks started to look like steak to me.


No fish and a bag of rocks later, we headed back to Glacier Distilling to grab another bottle or two and have one of their amazing bloody Marys.


After that, we stopped at Packers Roost for mile high nachos and terrible drinks.


Then it was on to Bigfork to check into our house on the Swan River. Oh….how I loved that house.

I couldn’t imagine a more perfect place to spend the next few days.



Matt tried some more (unsuccessful) fishing while the rest of us watched. With wine.

We had done a lot of driving, so we literally went a mile down the street to A Bar. It was simple, warm, and had some darn good chili.


Only in Montana are the men/women restrooms designated with taxidermy.


Day 6: Big Fun in Bigfork

Matt had a fishing trip, so the rest of us dropped him off and decided to wander around Bigfork and do some shopping.


Bigfork is adorable.

We hit every shop with about an hour to kill before Matt was finished so we popped into the Garden Bar, for mimosas.


At last, the mighty fisherman returned with news that he had caught the “big one.” This was no fish tale. Matt had caught the largest trout the guide said he’d caught all season – a good 24 inches from tip to tail.


Of course he released it. He’s not a monster.

We headed to lunch at Sitting Duck on Flathead Lake. I had heard about their legendary bloody Mary and knew that I needed it in my life.


Hello, beautiful. Where have you been all my life?


We headed back to the house for afternoon chillin’. With such a beautiful spot on the river, it was tempting to never leave the house.


It’s time for another “On our first trip to Montana” story….

On our first trip to Montana, we saw a beautiful handmade wooden canoe hanging in the top of a gallery in Apgar. It was love at first sight. On every trip after that, we made it a point to go see that canoe.

It had been hand crafted by a local canoe maker and had belonged to one owner, who owned one of the few private cabins inside the park on the shore of Lake McDonald. The canoe had only been in the water on Lake McDonald. The owner passed and the family decided to sell the canoe. It had been hanging inside the gallery since.

On our 9th trip in 2020, like every other trip before it, we went to look at the canoe. As Matt stared wistfully at it, I looked at Matt and said, “Why don’t you finally buy the thing?”

So he did.

It now hangs proudly at our home in TN.


Imagine my delight when I discovered that Moreley Canoe, the original builders, had their workshop only miles from the house we were in.


What a treat! Getting to tour the workshop and talk to the son of the father & son duo that make up Moreley Canoes was a high point. He remembered our specific canoe, as I’m sure they remember every canoe their hands build.

From there, we continued down the lake to have dinner at the Laughing Horse Lodge. This place stole my heart. Fresh farm-to-table food, two dogs IN THE DINING ROOM, a beautiful garden patio, and an African Grey in the bar….what wasn’t to love?


There is no better meal than the one you get to eat with a golden’s head in your lap.

Cutter and Lake were relentless beggars, but we followed the written directive on our table to not feed them.



After dessert and snuggles, it was back to the house to finish the day with a warm fire and a good bottle of wine.

I had bought a cheesy packet of “magical rainbow flame” powder in Bigfork….

Worth every penny of that 99 cents.


Day 7: No Hike For You

We had planned to do a final hike on our last full day in the Jewel Basin area, but we woke up to thick fog. There is not point in hiking in fog unless you just want to walk. You may as well be hiking with your eyes closed.

We decided to cozy in, enjoy the house, and wait for the fog to lift.

It became obvious it was not going to lift over the mountains. We could literally see the trail area from our back window and the fog kept creeping lower and lower. We decided on Plan B.

Plan B being mimosas, of course.


We headed to Echo Lake Café for brunch. This place is just YUM.


After stuffing ourselves, we felt a short walk might burn off at least 7 of those calories, so we took a stroll that managed to be lackluster and unchallenging all at the same time. I kept looking for a bear, as I had read they frequented this area, but I was only rewarded with this deer, not unlike the ones I see every day in my own back yard. Still…it was good to get some air and stretch our legs, which were still pretty bound up from that climb up to Grinnell Glacier.


With nothing else to do, it was a perfect excuse to head back to the river house and pop open some wine and eat snacks.


It was our final evening, so we headed to the Raven on Flathead Lake for some cocktails before dinner.


It was just a short walk across the street to Bonfire for dinner.


Day 8: All Good Things Must Come to an End

As quickly as it began, it was over. It was time to head home. We waved “goodbye” to the river house and said a quick prayer that our tire would make it just a little longer.

We can’t leave Montana without at least one breakfast at Montana Coffee Traders. It makes a perfect beginning or end to a trip. We tried the location in Kalispell first, because it was more convenient, but to our dismay ….they didn’t serve breakfast!

Cringing at the extra 32 miles we were about to put on that tire….we headed to Columbia Falls. There was no way I was leaving Montana without a plate full of fried potatoes, eggs, and crispy bacon.


And just like that….I found myself at the Dallas airport, eating dinner…and wishing I was back in Montana.


No worries.....we're already planning our return. See you next time, chipmunk!


As a reward for making it through this ENTIRE blog post...here are some cute animals. Until the next adventure!!

Posted by vicki_h 19:20 Archived in USA Tagged mountains hiking national_parks mt camping hike montana glacier_national_park kalispell big_sky columbia_falls bigfork Comments (2)

On my birthday, it’s all about ME

(Maine, that is)

Peace, Love, & Lobsters


Our first trip to Maine was in August 2007 after we ran across an advertisement for the 60th annual lobster festival in Rockland, ME.

What could be better than a tent filled with all the lobster you could eat?

What we didn’t know is how Maine would instantly charm us. We were immediately under its spell. Bright blue skies, blueberries, fresh seafood, salty air, and wildflowers literally bursting from every crevasse…..what was not to love?

We returned in July 2009 for the 62nd annual lobster festival….and again in September 2011. We didn’t make it back until September 2020, during my blog hiatus (sorry, you haven’t seen that one!). Our last trip to Maine was in April 2021 (nope…you haven’t seen that one either…)

The one thing I seem to do on every trip is get a ridiculous photo with my food, so here’s to 16 years of playing with my food!


When I saw that Erick Baker, my favorite local singer/songwriter from home was doing a show in midcoast Maine ON MY BIRTHDAY….how could I not go?


A bad day travelling is better than a good day in the office


Absolute rubbish.

I woke up early on travel day. I always do. We had to be at the airport around noon, so I wanted to have plenty of time to get ready, do some last minute packing, prepare the house, and drop off the dogs.

Instead, I saw a midnight message from Delta that our flight from TN to NY had been delayed until 3:00 p.m., getting us to LGA after our connecting flight to Bangor had already departed.

I spent the next hour wrangling with websites and apps and airline agents, still in my pajamas, with my dogs on the floor staring at me wondering about breakfast.

$700 extra dollars later, I managed to get us on an American Airlines flight to LGA. The layover would be tight, and we’d have to change terminals, but it was the best we could do to even attempt to make our flight to Maine that afternoon.

I ran into the bedroom where Matt was still in bed. Why? Because he does nothing to prepare for a trip rather than put on his clothes and show up.

“Get up! We have to leave right now!”

We blew out of the house faster than if it had been on fire, feeling completely disheveled and unprepared.

Our flight now required an extra layover and two airlines. We’d fly American from TYS to CLT with a one hour layover, and then we’d fly CLT to LGA. Once we got to LGA, we would have one hour to get from the American terminal and gate to the Delta terminal and gate. Having never been to LGA, I had no idea if this was even possible.

“All we can do is try,” I said as we boarded our flight to Charlotte on time.

We’d have been fine if the plane had actually LEFT on time.

We sat. And sat. And sat some more.

By the time we left, we were 30 minutes late.

We arrived in CLT and guess what? We sat.

We were still sitting on the plane in the second to last row waiting for the doors to open when a notice from American popped up on my phone.

“We board in 15 minutes,” I told Matt.

I felt sick. I felt dizzy. I needed to pee, but there would be no time for that.

When we got off the plane, we had to get from the far end of terminal E to the far end of terminal B in less than 10 minutes. With luggage.

Y’all, I’m no runner.

But as Forrest Gump would say, “I was runnnnning.”

I was sweating and literally sucking wind with a side cramp when we got to the gate as the very last passengers were boarding. Menopausal women should not run in unforgiving jeans and inappropriate footwear. I felt like I was self combusting.

“That sucked,” I told Matt. “I never want to do that again.”

I had no idea we’d be doing it again just two hours later, with the added bonus of a crowded airport, a freaking shuttle ride….through traffic lights, and a terminal change which meant GOING THROUGH SECURITY AGAIN.

“We’re not going to make it,” I said to Matt as we sat through the 3rd red light on the LGA shuttle, knowing we still had to get through security and run God-knows-how-far. Our flight to Maine was boarding in 10 minutes.

“We’re not going to make it,” I said again, all of my beautiful travel plans running though my head.

All of you who have ever had a flight cancellation delay know exactly what I’m talking about.

It’s like in the movies where someone is about to die and their life runs through their head, only this is with rental cars and non-refundable hotel rooms. And those of us who are neurotic planners have the added agony of thinking of the meal we already knew we were going to order from the menu we had memorized that we’d never get to eat.

Somehow….we made it….by the skin of our teeth.

We ran to the gate just as the doors were shutting.

Securely in our seats, I think we breathed our first breath in over 7 minutes.

When the flight attendant came by and asked what we’d like to drink….

“A double bloody Mary, please,” I said.

Matt leaned over, “Make it two.”



Having survived travel day and used up all our cuss words for the month, we landed in Bangor, Maine, where it was raining like there would be no tomorrow.


Shoot me, please.

This travel day just continued to decline.

“Ayah, be careful, it’s a wicked pissah out theyah,” the airport attendant said as he pointed us toward the rental cars.

No matter. We were HERE.

We climbed into the Mini and headed toward Blue Hill.


By the time we reached the Barncastle Inn, the rain had stopped. We had planned to eat dinner there that night, so all we had to do was go to our room, change our clothes, and walk downstairs to their adorable restaurant.


Barncastle was absolutely lovely. The 1884 Victorian Inn had only 5 suites and was all turrets and archways and eyebrow windows. As we walked into the grand foyer, I was instantly smitten.


The only thing more charming was the official greeter, Leroy, the owners’ Bernese Mountain Dog.


Our suite, Room 5, had a clawfoot bathtub that was the first bathtub in all of Blue Hill. The tub, made of solid cast iron, took 10 men to carry to the second floor. That was the best bath soak of all time.


Once we had washed the stink (both literally and figuratively) of travel day off, we headed downstairs.

The Barncastle had a wonderfully cozy and warm bar and adjoining restaurant.


We were shown to our table, where of course I didn’t need to look at the menu because I did, in fact, have it memorized.

We ordered some cocktails to take the edge off.


Neither of us had breakfast or lunch, thanks to spending the entire day mad-dashing from one location to another, so all we had subsisted on at this point was vodka and airplane pretzels. We dove into a plate of warm, salty pretzel rolls slathered with Bavarian mustard butter like we had just spent 40 years in the desert.


When it was time to order, Matt decided to go with the mussels swimming in downeast cider, whole grain mustard, crème fraiche and herbs.


I never met a pizza I didn’t like, so when I saw “Flammkuchen (it’s like a pizza!)” on the menu, I knew I had to have it.

“I’ll have the Flammakoochin….” I said, “No, wait, Flam-Coochn?” I looked at the waitress for help.

“Flahm-kookn,” she said.

Seriously, can’t we just call it pizza?

Not quite pizza, the flammkuchen was a crispy flatbread topped with savory gruyere, caramelized onions and smoked shrimp. However you pronounce it, it was delicious.


We finished up with the rhubarb pistachio cake with a pineapple hibiscus puree and lemony whipped cream.


There was nothing left to do but fall blissfully asleep and be thankful that this day was over.

Forecast: 100% chance of lobster


Lobster is the primary reason I come to Maine. Sure, I love the charming shaker shingle cape cods, the colorful buoys hanging from shopfronts, the riotous wildflowers….but the lobster is my one true love.

So, it was a guarantee that there would be lobster EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

But first, breakfast.


We enjoyed breakfast in the lovely library at the Barncastle Inn, but you know who loved it more?



It was clear that Leroy was both malnourished and unloved, it had probably been at least 5 minutes since he’d last eaten or had a hug, so Matt proceeded to get both himself and poor Leroy in trouble with the innkeeper for feeding him cake under the table.


We wouldn’t be spending a second night at Barncastle, so we gave Leroy some final noggin pats, loaded up the Mini, and headed north, toward Acadia National Park.


Yes, Acadia in July is more “peopley” than I like, but I can’t come to this part of Maine without seeing those amazing views. They take my breath. Also, despite the crowds, you can always find some quiet spaces.


It was unseasonably hot in Maine that day.

Do you know why most people go Maine in the summer? Because when it’s hotter than hell and half of Georgia in the rest of the country, it’s downright pleasant in Maine. “Not too hot” is how summer is typically described. Perfect. Sunny. 75.

We brilliantly chose to go to Maine at the tail end of what was the record for the longest consecutive run of high temperatures in Maine SINCE THEY STARTED RECORDING THE TEMPERATURE. The headline the week before we traveled to Maine, “Hottest week of the summer coming in Maine.” The forecast stated, “…temps well into the 90s statewide by Thursday and Friday.

Did I mention that it was Friday?

Because it was getting hotter by the minute and the park was so crowded you’d have thought they were giving away free puppies to each car that entered the gate, we decided not to do any hiking that day.


We did get out and walk back to Jordan Pond, though. It wasn’t too crowded, probably thanks to the small parking lot and the fact that most of the inhabitants of the cars in that small lot were too busy shoveling down popovers and lemonade at the Jordan Pond House.

This is my single favorite spot in Acadia National Park and I couldn’t imagine a visit without seeing it.


At this point, it was so hot the a/c in our car whimpered and whispered… “no more.” It was blowing, but it wasn’t blowing cold air. Matt and I were hotter than the Devil’s armpit and probably smelled just as bad.

We exited Acadia and made the short drive to Northeast Harbor where we popped out and took in the beautiful views.


At this point, my inner old lady was reaching her maximum temperature and air conditioning did not become a want, it became a need. Along with the second most important thing to a woman over 50, a bathroom.

We pulled into Abel’s Lobster for blessed a/c, cool cocktails, lobster, and a glorious bathroom.


We stood at the hostess stand. As sweat beaded on my brow and squished around in my bra…heck…even my butt was sweating…. the fresh-faced young woman in front of us didn’t seem to notice that it was 457 degrees outside.

“Outside seating?” she asked.

I looked around the patio, filled with other people who clearly did not know that we were in the 3rd circle of hell.

I looked back at her and my face must have given me away.

“Or inside?” she asked.

“INSIDE,” Matt and I shouted in unison.

Aaaahhh…..who needs nature and waterfront views when you can have cold, artificial air?????

The only other couple inside was an 80-something man and woman.

I guess it was official.

We were old folks now.

I slithered into my chair with a gleeful sigh and ordered a mai tai.


God bless air conditioning.

After crab dip, lobster, and blueberry pie, all was again right with the world.


Until I remembered I had to get back in the hot box, aka, the Mini with no air.

It was a rather toasty drive to Searsport, where we had rented a small oceanfront cottage for the remainder of the trip.

The Depot was the most perfect, adorable, and wonderfully air-conditioned little Maine cottage I had ever seen. There were flowers everywhere and the most stunning view.


As if on cue, two bald eagles swooped down into the back yard, flying together back and forth over the water as soon as we arrived.

There could be no better place to spend my birthday.


We cooled off, cleaned up, and headed outside to enjoy the breeze that had kicked up (ushering in a cold front…woooo!) with a nice bottle of wine before heading to dinner.


Let me preface dinner by stating that Matt and I don’t typically dine at really high end places. We love food, but we are not foodies. I will choose nachos over fine dining 100% of the time if it’s truly up to me. I like my pasta with red sauce and powdered parmesan cheese. My favorite food is pizza. I love canned peas. I shop at Price Less, not Whole Foods.

We don’t eat at restaurants that have their own truffle dogs or forage for their own mushrooms in the woods. If I saw “tapioca pearls and royal kaluga caviar drizzled with champagne granite and coconut chiffon,” I would ask if it came with ketchup.

Small food, no matter how pretty, makes us sad.

We are not extravagant restaurant people.

So I wasn’t sure what had possessed me to secure a dinner reservation at a historic restaurant nearby that was described as “destination dining” and only offered a nightly chef’s tasting menu. I had no idea how much said tasting menu was or what would be on it. I had an idea when I was required to use my credit card to secure a reservation.

If I am completely honest, I was shamelessly drawn in by the promise of a $40 old fashioned. I needed to know.

I mean, it WAS my birthday weekend.

The Hichborn was “just down the road a piece,” in nearby Stockton Springs. When we arrived, I saw a lovely historic house surrounded by flowers. So far, so good.


There were several small dining rooms inside, my best guess was that the entire restaurant seated about 30 people. We were seated at a beautiful little table that sat tucked inside a bay window, almost like our own private space.

The pre-fixe menu was on the table, along with a cocktail menu.

The menu didn’t have prices.


So…at this point…why not go for the old fashioned that cost more than I would typically spend on my entire meal?

I mean, I WAS my birthday weekend.

What the hell. Matt got a really expensive cocktail too. Why not?


Deciding to just go all in, we added the wine pairing (which was an amazing idea at the time and a terrible idea the next morning) and the optional oyster course. At this point, the meal was clearly going to cost more than my first car, so we might as well go all the way.

And then, we dined. Of course I am going to describe all 8 courses to ensure I get my money’s worth.

The first thing they did was bring us teeny tiny little spoons.


Matt got scared.

“I’m pretty sure I’m not going to like anything I can eat with this spoon,” he said.

It was small, but mighty. First up was an amouse bouche, a chilled cucumber soup with fava, arugula, spinach, and mint, topped with cucumber granita. I would typically snort-laugh if I ordered something with “granita,” but here I was, being all fancy.


Next up was a baby gem lettuce salad with cherry tomatoes, blue cheese, and bread crumbs paired with a Viognier from the Willamette Valley in Oregon.


Then the oysters came out and they were….to be quite honest….life changing. Paired with a 2016 Cava Gran Reserva Brut from Spain, these Norumbega oysters were exquisite, topped with a ramp vinaigrette.


At this point, even Matt was won over. He talked about those oysters for DAYS.

If I am honest, when I saw the next dish on the menu, my first thought was, “Oh hell no.”

I remember my mom had an old 1960’s Better Homes and Gardens cookbook when I was a kid. You know the one? With the red and white picnic plaid cover?

Anyway, I loved to look at it and I would flip through it like it was the world’s best picture book.

And there it was.

Right between the jellied bullion ring with frankenfurters and the ham & lima bean sadness casserole…...a raw hamburger with a raw egg on it….

“Impress your guests with this elegant beef tartare,” it promised.

For a kid, it was the thing nightmares of made of.

I have never gotten that image out of my head. I ripped the page to shreds and hid it beneath my Legos just to be on the safe side.

When I saw that our next course was a beef tenderloin tartare with a rainbow farm egg…..I mouthed a silent “over my dead body.” No matter the 2022 French Beaujolais that came with.

Just as the oysters won Matt over….it was the tartare that won me over. This was my single favorite course of the entire meal. I kid you not. Freaking amazing what they did with raw meat, eggs, and radishes.


Don’t get me wrong, just because we had admitted that we were actually enjoying this somewhat high-brow dining experience, I was still me. You can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl.

I spent the next 10 minutes imitating the waiter’s slightly exaggerated description telling us that we were drinking the “bougelais made from the gamay grapes,” which I found endlessly entertaining.

“We’re drinking the booooooghuuuuulaaaaay from the gaaaaamaaaaayyyy,” I reminded Matt, repeatedly, in my best Kardashian voice.

It was like that time we got upgraded to fist class and we spent the first 15 minutes pushing all the buttons. We enjoyed it, but it was clear we didn’t belong.

No matter! On to the next course, which was a pork filet with heirloom potatoes and fermented napa cabbage with sage paired with a 2021 Red Rhone Blend from CA.


At this point, the wine was really hitting.

“Bougelais….from the gamay…”

Before the dessert course, there was a lovely palate cleanser, which allowed Matt a second shot at the tiny little spoon.


For our final course (so we thought), there was a lovely olive oil cake with lemon curd, Maine blueberries, and whipped mascarpone with a glass of Spanish Moscatel Dorado Sherry.


And just like the old Ginzu knife commercials from our childhood…But wait! There’s more!

To keep you from crying over your bill, they deliver it with snickerdoodle cookies.


When I asked Matt how much it was, his exact words were, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Matt cried while I ate the cookies.

We are never going to be those people that eat like this regularly, or even annually, but once in a blue moon, it’s fun to just say, “What the hell” and order a $40 cocktail.

I mean…it WAS my birthday weekend.

Party like a Lob-star

It was my birthday, and it was official.

I used to be “hot stuff,” now…..


I was moving slow that morning. The bougelais from the gamay was thundering through my head like a racehorse.

We settled in with coffee and did nothing more than watch the fishing boats go by. The good news was that the cold front had moved in and it was considerably cooler.


Once I had hydrated and Adviled, I was right as rain so we headed to Belfast to grab some breakfast at Traci’s diner.

Lobster for breakfast? Don’t mind if I do.


If I have said it once on this blog, I have said it a hundred times…God love Matt for putting up with me and my crazy ideas.

When he asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, probably the one answer he was NOT expecting was, “Walk alpacas.”

Meet Gaius and Indie.


Indie was a sweetheart. Gaius was a jackass.

Obviously, I got Gaius.

But I had a bag of alpaca snacks and that made him tolerable.


I had decided to spend the day driving through the countryside, from Searsport to Camden, parallel to the coast. It was a chance to see a different side of midcoast maine.

Our next stop was at Glendarragh Lavender Farm. My absolute favorite scent in the world is lavender. I knew I would love it. What surprised me was how much Matt loved it!


After we toured the farm and bought some lovely items to take home, we continued our drive deep into the countryside to Sweetgrass Farm Distillery. We had visited this on one of our prior trips and loved the beautiful grounds, their award winning gin, and the quiet, laid back atmosphere.

We did a quick tasting and then purchased some cocktails to enjoy outside in the sunshine.


Then it was on to Cellardoor Winery, another place we had visited previously and loved. On the way, there as a birthday surprise….my first oreo cow!!


Yes, Oreo cows are a thing.

Cellardoor is a sprawling property and is beautiful inside and out.

We had reserved an outdoor seating area, but it was so cool and lovely inside we asked if we could be moved inside. Not only did they move us inside, they gave us their best seating area. It was another lovely birthday surprise!


Settled into comfy chairs, with plenty of snacks and wine, we had a lovely wine lunch.

We headed home for the afternoon because we had a special evening planned…it was the Erick Baker show in Castine!

We rested up and had cake. Cake before dinner? Um…yeah. It’s my birthday.


Because I wanted to be sure we’d make the show on time, I had made dinner reservations at the Homeport Inn and Tavern, so close to our cottage that we could have walked.

It was a lovely place, all gleaming wood and dim lighting, with a live jazz duo in the adjoining room. Cocktails, mussels, fish and chips…it might not have been as fancy as the Hichborn but my dinner was fried and came with ketchup and that’s tops in my book.


The first time Matt and I saw Erick Baker perform https://www.erickbaker.com/ he was at a tiny little place in downtown Knoxville in 2008. We loved him instantly.

Over the years, we have watched Erick get married, have a daughter, host a TV show, and become slightly famous. His music is amazing and to watch him perform it live is magical.

We have been lucky enough to host him several times for shows at our home and over the years, we have come to call him friend. We don’t only love his music and watching him perform, he holds a special place in our hearts.

When I saw that he was doing a show on my actual birthday in midcoast Maine, I knew what I wanted to do for my birthday.

Matt LOVES Maine and Erick, so talking him into it was easy.

So here we were, pulling up to a beautiful old mansion in Castine to watch a very small, intimate show.


The Elms was gorgeous. We grabbed some drinks at the bar and had a chance to talk to Erick for a while before grabbing our seats at our table.

To say Erick Baker does a great live show is such a gross understatement. It’s like saying that $40 old fashioned at The Hichborn was “ok.”

It was an amazing night. He had asked for my favorites before the show and made sure to play every one, even leading the room in a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.”


I never wanted the show to end, but it was late, it was raining, and we had an hour drive back to Searsport in the dark, so we hugged Erick goodbye, grabbed the world’s worst selfie, and called it a night.

Oh, what a night!

All the aaaaaaahhhhhhhs…..


Lobstah, chowdah, oystah…..

Today, we were going coastal.

We planned to drive south along the coast from Searsport to Rockland, sampling the views and seafood along the way.

First up was Young’s Lobster Pound in Belfast. Lobster at 10:00 am? Why not?


This has always been my favorite of the lobster pounds because I love sitting outside in the brilliant Maine sunshine, watching the boats in Belfast Harbor.

With belly’s full of lobster, we stopped in quaint, downtown Belfast to do a little shopping. Obviously we HAD to go into the Blue Alpaca store and buy some socks and hats. I mean, we were practically FAMILY now.


Like Hobbits, it was time for second breakfast.

Shopping made us hungry again, so we made another stop in Lincolnville. Lincolnville is literally a speck of a town on one street with a sweeping harbor, book ended by 2 lobster pounds. We stopped at McLaughlin’s because I love their outdoor setting.


Buttery lobster rolls and creamy fish chowder made a great snack.

What I had been looking forward to the most, however, was oyster Sunday at Primo. We had discovered oyster Sunday on our 2020 trip and it was amazing. The restaurant opened the doors to its lovely barn, set among the vegetable and herb gardens where they grow much of their own food, with tables scattered about the lawn and wildflowers and sunshine creating a perfect summer haze as we sipped chilled champagne and sucked down raw oysters. I loved everything about it.

I was so happy to see that oyster Sunday at Primo still lives. From 1 – 4, they dish out lovely small plates and $2 oysters with live music and chilled wine.

We didn’t want to miss it. Knowing it would be popular, we arrived promptly at 1:00 only to see that there was a line of about 40 people waiting at the entrance. Apparently, everyone else loved everything about it too.

Thinking this was a line waiting to be seated, we assumed the worst and left in defeat.

Matt could tell I was grossly disappointed.

“Maybe it was just an initial line for people who showed up early and, once they are seated, it won’t be that bad?” I ventured.

We agreed to head down to the Rockland Harbor and walk for about 30 minutes and then return to see if anything had changed.

The harbor was lovely! They have a long path that winds around the waterfront from one end of town to the other.


Not feeling very optimistic, we returned to Primo to find that the line was short. I hopped out while Matt found a parking space. What I realized quickly was that the line was because it was essentially counter service.

You wait in line, you order, you find a seat, and they bring your food to you. The long line initially was because so many showed up right at 1:00. Whew!


It was easy to find a shady spot to sit on their huge, sprawling property. Live house music played, rose flowed, and chilled platters of icy oysters came out in an endless parade.

We were seated with a great view of everyone waiting in line and it was the best people watching ever.


Satisfied, we headed to Camden for some more shopping. I love Maine Sea Bags and grabbed a wallet to go with the bag I bought on a previous trip. I also love Swans Island blankets. I drool over them every time we go to Maine. I finally bit the bullet and bought one. Yes, it was overpriced, but dang, I love that blanket.


We couldn’t be in Camden without stopping at River Ducks ice cream.


We spent the next hour wandering the harbor admiring the old boats. I love old boats, and I cannot lie.


I had booked us on a sunset sail and we had about an hour to kill, so we headed to the rooftop bar at the beautiful 16 Bay View hotel. Sitting above the historic hotel, The View is just that…..THE VIEW.



We enjoyed drinks and snacks with the best view in town.

We arrived at Sloop Angacaa right on time, wine and snacks in hand. Anjacaa is a 54 foot sloop built in 1973. Unlike most sunset sails in Camden, which carry 20 – 50 passengers, Anjacaa only carries 6, so it’s a significantly more intimate and private experience.

As we sat snuggled in our two seats on the bow, with blankets, wine, cheese and fruit, I watched as the other boats cruised out with so many people on them most were standing shoulder to shoulder.

No thank you.

What a magical night it was! The water was like glass, the sky clear, and not only did we see the sun set, we saw the moon rise. Just beautiful.


It was an absolutely perfect way to end a wonderful trip.

Back home now, I curl up on the sofa with my baby soft Swans Island blanket with visions of puffy, white hydrangeas next to faded shaker shingles; endless glassy seas dotted with wooden boats; the salty smell of the ocean; and crisp rose with ice cold oysters.

I wonder if Maine misses me too.


Posted by vicki_h 00:09 Archived in USA Tagged coast lobster seafood camden maine belfast acadia northeast rockland rockport midcoast_maine searsport Comments (1)

Grassy Key - To Do Something Right, You Need to Do it Twice

“Whatever happened to Vicki_H?”

“I heard she went off the grid and is living in a yurt in Montana with 27 rescue dogs.”

“No, no, no….she’s down in St. John running a bar called the Blue Bucket.”

“Not St. John, it was the Bahamas, and it’s not a bar, she’s running a shelter for stray peacocks.”

“I heard she died from mixing Pop Rocks and Mountain Dew.”


Life happened to Vicki H, folks. So. Much. Life.

I was on a TV show. We had a hurricane. We lost a boat. We lost a house. I cut my hair off. I grew it back. We had a pandemic. I stopped highlighting my hair. I turned 50. I celebrated my 20th anniversary. My Dad broke his hip. We recovered from a hurricane. My Dad got better. I turned 51. We bought another house in Abaco. My dog got paralyzed. My dog recovered. My mother-in-law passed away. My mom celebrated her 5 year cancer-free anniversary. We bought a boat. I turned 52.

And now I’m turning 53.

Good gravy. Where did the time go?

Despite my absentee status, I am alive and well. Better than I deserve to be. I have not lost my love for travel, but just failed to write about it for a while. I have finally realized there is no way I can go back and catch up 4 years of trips. (and there were some really good ones, y’all!). But maybe I can just start today and go forward. If I get the time to do some looksbacks, I’ll do my best!

But today, in honor of the big 5-3 coming up, let’s talk about my birthday last year.


The Keys to a Happy Birthday

Two fifty-somethings in the middle cays.

I only had 3 days. So it had to be quick and easy. But good.

Like a microwave cake.

My microwave cake was a cheap flight down to FLL and a rental convertible driving through the Middle Keys.

Not quite a bakery cake, but definitely better than a Moon Pie.

FLL to Grassy Key

I used miles for free flights on Allegiant to Fort Lauderdale, which seemed like a great idea until we actually made the drive from the airport to Key Largo, seeing nothing more exciting that a ton of hot traffic. Strike one.

I also made the less than stellar decision to rent a convertible. Again, my vision and reality did not quite line up. They Keys really require a tall vehicle. We saw lots of guard rails that I am sure had beautiful water views on the other side. Strike two.

I also decided to use the Turo app for the first time. While Turo and the vehicle were absolutely fantastic, we were totally unprepared for the extra steps that one does not encounter when renting a car from a car rental agency at the airport. Like the owner forgetting to send us information to get to the car and waiting outside in the heat until she saw our frantic messages. And having to send her a photo of Matt holding his driver’s license with the car in the background…and waiting for her to approve it…then waiting for the code to get into the car. But wait! There’s more! And then having to photograph every single inch of the car and send her the photos to document the car’s condition prior to starting the engine.

Strike three.


By this time, we’d been in the hot parking garage at the FLL airport for over an hour sitting beside a car we couldn’t get into and sweating buckets. We were ready to get this show on the road!


Fast forward 2 long, boring, hot hours later (in addition to being too low to see anything, a convertible is a very HOT option when sitting in south FL traffic….), when we stopped at Gilbert’s Resort and Tiki Bar before crossing over to Key Largo to enjoy some boobies.

Not that kind of boobies.

THIS kind of boobies.


Frozen boobies were definitely in order to get the birthday weekend started.


Our next stop was Marker 88 in Islamorada for lunch with a view.


We continued on, making a final stop at Robbie’s of Islamorada, where I had heard I could find an epic bloody Mary. It was indeed epic!

Yes, yes...I know Robbie's also has some big fish you can feed, but who cares about big fish when there are bloody Marys with BACON to be consumed?


I also found a painting I couldn’t resist. Is it just me, or does that parrot look like it knows something?


We made the rest of the drive, stopping a few times so we could see more than the concrete barriers and guard rails.


We finally arrived at Grassy Key and checked into Grassy Flats Resort.

I had a heck of a time trying to decide where to stay and had narrowed it down to several places, ultimately choosing Grassy Flats because it had an “adults only” building and pool (don’t judge) and because it appeared small and laid back, both qualities that appeal to my hotel-despising nature.

The Wreckers House at Grassy Flats was absolute perfection. Our room was beautiful with an outstanding view. The resort itself was low key and had a relaxed, bohemian vibe that we really loved. The grounds were absolutely lovely.


Our favorite part, no surprise here, was the resort bar, Barrel and Bale. It was breezy and very boho chic, with soft chill music playing whenever we went it. They also made incredibly good craft cocktails.


We grabbed a couple of drinks and headed straight for the pool. The “adults only” pool….that is…


After some down time, we got cleaned up and headed out for “birthday night.”


We had booked a sunset boat trip out of Marathon. We weren’t really expecting much, but it turned out to be very pretty.


Next, it was on to FL Keys Steak & Lobster. It had stellar reviews, but when we pulled up, it reminded me of the old school seafood restaurants we used to go to in 1977 when my parents would take us to Gulf Shores.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” was spot on. The food was fantastic and we ate so much, I didn’t have room for birthday cake!


Grassy Key & Marathon


The next morning we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise.

Looking for something “different,” I had booked a jet ski cruise. We headed back to Marathon.


It was not a smooth day.

Anyone who has been on a jet ski in the ocean when it was not a smooth day knows exactly what I mean by that.

For the next 45 minutes, I alternated between desperately hanging onto Matt while my butt flew up off the seat every 10 seconds and worrying about being suddenly launched out to sea and eaten by a shark or getting a salt water enema. By the time we reached our destination, my tailbone voted for being eaten by a shark.

While it was a truly beautiful spot, I was mostly just happy to get off the stupid ocean bronco for a while. We explored for a while and, when I felt my butt could take it, we hopped back on for the return trip.


Now I remember why I stopped riding these things when I was 25.

When the jet ski ride was over, or as I like to call it, “Bullriding 101,” we headed to Castaway for lunch. I only hoped they had soft seats.


On pretty much every FL Keys “Can’t Miss It” list, Castaway was the perfect kind of eclectic, divey, locals place with incredibly fresh seafood, unique dishes, and great water views.

But if I'm completely honest, they had me at "padded chairs."


Known for their sushi, of course we had to try it. Amazing!

We also sampled the “tunachos” and the spicy tuna dog, a charred hot dog topped with spicy tuna, avocado, panko, green onions, masago, spicy mayo, and eel sauce. So yummy that I momentarily forgot about my sore tush.


On the way back to Grassy Key, we saw some more lovely water views (aka, guard rails and concrete barriers).


We had tropical cocktails on our mind, so we stopped at a cute tiki bar. When we walked into Sunset Grille, there were at least 12,897 people in there and at least ¾ of them were running, screaming children (don’t judge), so we made a u-turn and headed back to the car.

A little farther down the road, we came to Island Fish Company, another cute tiki bar that was crowd free and didn’t have a plethora of small screaming persons running about.

We sat at the breezy bar facing the water and had a couple of drinks before heading back to Grassy Flats.


I already told you that the bar at Grassy Flats had already won us over, so we headed down before dinner to have a drink and fell in love with their Mai Tai.


Then we made the .4 mile drive to Hideaway Café.

I will admit that I struggled with my decision to make a reservation at Hideaway Café. It’s no secret that I like to pour over the interwebs before I make decisions about where to go when I travel. By the time I actually go, it’s like I have already been there.

Hideaway Café has almost no online presence. While it was very highly recommended, information was limited. Add to that the fact that I actually had to call and speak to an actual person to make a reservation, and I nearly lost it.

Seriously, I'll struggle for 45 minutes with an online reservation system before I'll call an actual person and spend 30 seconds making a reservation. I'd sooner send a messenger pigeon with my request tied to its leg than speak to someone on the phone.

But something in my gut said to give it a try.

When we pulled into the Rainbow Bend Resort, my apprehension doubled.


It was pink, old school, and we were greeted with a giant sign straight out of 1957. What we didn’t realize yet was that this quaint resort was a hidden gem with lovely rooms, a stunning beachfront view, and an absolutely top notch dining experience.

We headed up the stairs to the Hideaway Café. When we walked inside, we were greeted by the glow of candlelight, white tablecloths, and roses on every table. Not to mention a view of the ocean from every seat.

With upscale French cuisine, fresh seafood, and a lovely wine list, I can’t recommend this restaurant enough. We ate so much….I still didn’t have room for cake.


Grassy Key to Key Largo


Grassy Key is known for kiteboarding…something Matt has always wanted to try, so we grabbed some bagels and he hit the beach for a kiteboarding lesson, while I hung out at the beach.

It was now 2 days post-birthday, and I still hadn’t had a birthday cake…a first! So, I did the only thing I could. I bought myself a key lime pie and ate it for breakfast.


As I sat and watched Matt’s 4 hour introductory kiteboarding lesson, I couldn’t help but ask myself….why would one want to strap oneself to a giant kite and attempt to ride a surfboard? As expected, a first lesson is more “kite-dragging” than “boarding.” The longer I watched, the happier I was sitting on the beach with a mai tai and pie.


Then, as soon as it began, our time at Grassy Flats was over. We had booked a room in Key Largo for our final night to make the drive time to the airport shorter the following day.

We headed back up toward Key Largo, stopping at Lorelei’s for appetizers, the Postcard Inn Tiki Bar for drinks, and the Fish House for more appetizers to break up the drive.


We were feeling good, with bellies full of drunken shrimp and key lime martinis when we arrived at Azul del Mar, a small waterfront guest house in Key Largo.

Want to know how to kill a perfect day drinking buzz in 7 words or less?

“I locked the keys in the trunk.”

Our little convertible was parked in the parking lot. While Matt went into the registration office, I thought I would be helpful and get our luggage out. In the process of doing so, I put the keys inside the trunk and proceeded to close the trunk.

We searched for a trunk release inside the car for 30 minutes with no luck. There was no car manual in the glove compartment. I Googled. Nothing.


What we found was a way to get into the trunk from inside the car, we thought, so Matt set about dismantling the car piece by piece in the 97 degree heat, sweating and cursing.

I honestly didn’t think he could get any angrier at me.

That was, until I found the trunk release that I said I couldn’t find, after Matt had been sweating and cursing for 45 minutes trying to dismantle the back seat of a Fiat.

You'll be happy to know that one thing hasn't changed during my travel blog hiatus....I am still an idiot.

This is not the face of a happy man.


Being married to me is hard, people.

We were finally able to go into our suite and relax. Azul del Mar was just lovely.


When Matt had fully recovered emotionally, we cleaned up for dinner.

Before dinner, we decided to stop in at the Caribbean Club. Open since 1938, it’s the oldest bar in the upper keys. It had character, stiff drinks, live music, and a great sunset. Interestingly, it’s the only place in Key Largo where the movie, Key Largo, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, was filmed. The rest took place in Hollywood.


We wrapped up our last night with big bowls of pasta at DiGiorgio’s Key Largo, because spaghetti is always a good idea.


As we made the dull 2 hour drive back to the airport the next morning, Matt and I agreed that we absolutely loved Grassy Flats and wanted to return. Matt wanted to try a proper 3-day kiteboarding lesson and I wanted to explore more of the upper keys.

Who knew we’d be back so fast!

Grassy Key 2.0: Suite Dreams Are Made of This

Matt and I returned to Grassy Flats just 7 months later.

Grassy Flats Resort was opened by retired professional kiteboarder Matt Sexton and his partners in 2019. Despite opening just before the pandemic shut everything down, Grassy Flats survived.

Thank goodness it did.

Grassy Flats is an eco-friendly watersports-oriented boutique resort reborn from three old Florida mom & pop resorts that had gone by the wayside. There are less than 40 guest rooms, keeping Grassy Flats small, personal, and nostalgic.

We were excited to return.

It was late evening when we flew into the Key West airport. There would be none of this “driving from Fort Lauderdale” nonsense this time. There would also be no shorty convertible this time.

Once inside our properly tall Jeep, we headed toward Grassy Flats.

It was late when we arrived and our key had been left for us by Poppy, so that we could let ourselves in. Although we had reserved a basic room, we had been upgraded to the beautiful Galleon Suite at the Wreckers House.


Wanting nothing more than sleep, we climbed into that big, beautiful King bed and were out!

We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise on the deck the next morning with coffee.


Today was supposed to be Day 1 of Matt’s 3-day intro to kiteboarding. We got up super early and grabbed a quick breakfast at Island Fish House.


We had booked specifically for the end of February because that’s when wind is almost guaranteed.

Unlike death and taxes, wind on Grassy Key is not certain.

The water was flat as a fritter. Wind? A mouse fart would generate more wind than we saw on Grassy Key that week.

So, with several days that were now free of kiteboarding lessons, we did the only thing we could do….see how many places we could eat and drink before it was time to go home!

We headed to lunch at Bongos at the nearby Lagoon, Grassy Flats’ sister property, a 50 acre day resort with watersports, a tropical café, and botanical garden.


Bongo’s was a tropical explosion of orchids, garden paths, and art murals next to a shallow lagoon. Breezy tables sat under umbrellas as mango mimosas and Bloody marys flowed to the music of a live band.

There were worse ways to spend the morning.


After wasting the morning at Bongo’s, we wasted the afternoon at the Grassy Flats pool with mai tais from Barrel and Bale.

There were worse ways to spend the afternoon.


We ventured to the far end of Marathon for dinner at the Isla Bella resort’s Polynesian-inspired restaurant, Mahina.

Isla Bella was a beautiful property and Mahina was visually stunning.

Tables sat scattered under the swaying palms as soft music played and the sunset glowed low in the sky.

There are worse ways to end the day.


With no lessons to get up early for, we spent a lazy morning enjoying the beach at Grassy Flats.

The water was shallow here. Wide flats of shallow water hug the ocean side of Grassy Key where the resort is located. Soft reggae played from the speakers at the poolside tiki bar. Hammocks swayed in the breeze. The resort’s kayaks, paddleboards, and Hobie Cats sat in the soft sand waiting for someone to jump on board for an adventure.

We realized this was a truly magical place.


Grassy Key doesn’t have the celebrated status of Key West or the dive-capitol fame of Key Largo. Nor does it have the gated exclusivity of some of the smaller keys. What Grassy Key has is the salty essence of true Florida and we loved it.

We enjoyed brunch at Sparky’s Landing, where the BOGO mimosas and seafood ciopinno were calling, but spent most of the day simply enjoying Grassy Flats.


Sunset called for cocktails at Barrel and Bale.


We also decided to return to Hideaway Café for another lovely dinner.


The following day was supposed to be the 3rd day of Matt’s kiteboarding lesson, with us returning to Key West in the afternoon, but with no lessons, we decided to head to Key West as soon as we checked out.

After enjoying one more lovely sunrise, that is.


What to do with a bonus day in Key West? Eat brunch at Blue Heaven, of course!


Followed by painkillers at the Rum Bar….


And margaritas at Sunset Pier……


And don’t forget oysters at Pepe’s……


There was nothing left to do but crash in our blessedly cool suite at Winslow’s Bungalows, so early that I am embarrassed to tell you what time.


Because we never really had dinner the night before, we woke up ravenous.

We grabbed breakfast at the nearby Key West Cuban Coffee. I’m glad we were hungry, because the chorizo and eggs were MASSIVE (and delicious!).


We spent the day shopping, eating, and drinking our way through Key West, because that’s our favorite thing to do!

With only 1 day, we hit all of our favorites. There were mimosas and bloody Mary’s at Hanks, tacos from Garbo’s, more rum from the Rum Bar, more oysters from Pepe’s, sunset from Mallory Square, zombies from the Tiki House, and nachos and margaritas from Amigo’s.


Stick a fork in me, because I was done! We had painted the town AND the front porch and we’d eaten anything that didn’t eat us first. I felt as fat and happy as a boardinghouse cat.

It was time to go home.

The best part? Well, we’d have to come back now, wouldn’t we? I mean, we still had those kiteboarding lessons to do…..

Posted by vicki_h 20:18 Archived in USA Tagged beach island tropical florida key_west marathon islamorada fl florida_keys key_largo middle_keys grassy_key grassy_flats Comments (7)

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